Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wine in the West III


"The use of alcohol in later Neolithic Europe should not be separated from the overall cultural picture of which it was just a part. As Sheratt explains:

The spread of the drinking complex--a common emphasis on sets of vessels, often combined in graves, which in several cases are so distinctive stylistically as to have given their name to whole cultures--took place during a period of unusually rapid social, cultural and economic change. During this time, Europe was opened up--both literally, in terms of the further deforestation of its landscapes, and metaphorically, in terms of its new contacts and social opportunities. Fundamental to this processwas the increasing importance of livestock, and the emergence of male warrior elites whose sub-culture was portrayed in the characteristic combination of weaponry and drinking vessels in their graves. [my emphasis]

"Alcohol in this early phase of European life was a rarity, and in the more northerly climes various sugar-producing substances were pressed into the service of producing intoxicating brews. Organic residues from later prehistoric vessels show that cereal grains, honey and fruits were all mixed together to make a composite drink which was at once a mead, an ale and a fruit wine. The use of this new liquid intoxicant may initially have been combined with opium or hemp, but it was soon to establish itself as the primary intoxicant of Western culture, a position it still maintains."

-Richard Rudgley, Essential Substances: A Cultural History of Intoxicants in Society ©1993, p33-34.

At this point literature extends itself to record this sub-culture of the warrior elite. The Iliad and the Odyssey are early examples in the south. Historical reports by men of great intellect, such as Julius Caesar and Tacitus, chronicle parallel cultures in the north, and written much later in the north, there is Beowulf, and yet later, Icelandic Sagas.

to be continued...

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